Lack of work, cleanup of past hirings cited
The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner issued layoff notices to eight employees of the Illinois Department of Transportation Wednesday, saying there was a “lack of work” for them to do, but also saying the action is part of “cleaning up past hiring mistakes and personnel practices.”
Don Craven, a lawyer representing the members of Teamsters Local 916, said the union would “take all appropriate actions to defend the rights” of the members.
Notices informed the workers their last day would be Aug. 15. Those being laid off include the wife of the business manager of Laborers Local 477, and the wife of Bill Houlihan, state director for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois. Bill Houlihan is also an elected member of the Democratic State Central Committee.
“The employees who were issued layoff notices today are being let go due to a lack of work in the positions in which they are currently employed,” said Kelsea Gurski, spokeswoman for IDOT, via email. “The administration [at IDOT] has made it clear that it is committed to cleaning up past hiring mistakes and personnel practices. Today’s action is another step in that process.”
Four of the employees live in Springfield, while the others are from Frankfort, Chatham, Riverton and Carlinville.
Craven likened the action to past firings that were reversed in courts and arbitration.
He said of the “lack of work” reason given for each layoff: “I believe that as much as I believed it in 2004 when Governor [Rod] Blagojevich laid off the Republicans as part of what was then described as a material reorganization.”
Craven was among lawyers who represented 16 people in a federal civil rights lawsuit that went to trial in Peoria. After verdicts came back in favor of the workers in 2011, the case was settled, the verdicts were technically vacated, and all 16 people either went back to work or were otherwise compensated.
Another 14 people, Craven has said, had cases go to arbitration, and they all got their jobs back or compensation as well.
Among the layoff notices Wednesday was one to Melissa Schaive, 44, of Riverton, who has been with the state since 2003 and makes $73,860 a year. Brad Schaive, the Local 477 business manager and Melissa’s husband, said his wife’s job is information technology procurement analyst, and that her position is posted so somebody else can be hired.
“This is just another attack on working men and women by an administration that has been vocal, previously, about not only the job that I do, but also the employment of my family members,” Brad Schaive said. “This is a clear attack at a wife and a mother instead of attacking directly – because they can’t – the labor leader.”
During the 2014 campaign, Rauner, as a candidate for governor, cited “illegal patronage hires” that he claimed included Schaive’s stepmother, Lesa. She still works at the agency, and back in 2014, Schaive called the allegation “ridiculous,” noting his stepmother had been with the state for a total of more than 20 years at the time.
Schaive also said Wednesday that his wife was off about 3 months last year, when she got a liver transplant, and she will be needing a kidney transplant.
“And that’s who they choose to go after because she happens to be married to a labor leader,” Schaive said. “When people attack family members, there’s nothing more disgusting and nothing that should be more illegal.”
Another layoff notice was sent to Cindy Houlihan, 60, of Springfield, whose salary is listed as $85,464 a year. She said she has been on disability due to multiple sclerosis since April, but has hoped to return to work. She said her job has been statewide coordinator of the adopt-a-highway program. She didn’t comment directly on the layoff notice. Comptroller’s records show she worked for the state since 1998.
At the time candidate Rauner attacked IDOT patronage, then-Gov. Pat Quinn – the Democrat Rauner went on to defeat – had announced that 58 people hired to the “staff assistant” position were being laid off, though Teamsters Local 916 was fighting that decision as wrongly targeting workers for mistakes of those who hired them.
The Quinn administration had also said that 103 people hired as staff assistants but who had moved to other jobs could stay with the agency. It was that declaration that had Rauner saying Quinn was protecting “illegal” hires.
A 2014 IDOT list of people who had been hired as staff assistants included only one of the eight people who were given layoff notices Wednesday. That is Marianne Hankins, 45, of Springfield. Comptroller records show she is a technical manager II and is paid $54,688 a year. She couldn’t immediately be reached.